The best way to get over the depressing end of the NFL season is to immerse yourself in the NFL Draft. Though I'm sure to be experiencing "Draft Fatigue" by mid-March, nothing puts last season's horror show in the rear view mirror better than researching the potential rookie studs the Pats could be adding in April.
I will be posting an extensive Combine Players to Watch article, specifically targeting the players the Patriots could be interested in, next week. But for the time being here are a few prospects that have caught my eye early on. These five players are the ones who've been popping up the most.
Of course after the combine players will rise and fall, this is just a snapshot in time of the players right now that are projected to be available when the Pats pick. And you never know, the Pats could be picking up an extra first-rounder for Matt Cassel and that would make things entirely more interesting.
Top Five Patriots Prospects (for the 23rd overall pick)
1. Alphonso Smith CB (Wake Forest): Smith is the prototypical Patriots cornerback in that he's undersized and really quick but with one major plus, he's a ball hawk. He's currently about the third ranked corner, but was all over the place in Senior Bowl practice, getting interceptions every day, though he did drop one in the game.
Mike Mayock calls him one of the most instinctive corners he's ever seen in college.
2. Brandon Pettigrew TE (Okalahoma State): A tight end!? This is the last thing Patriots fan want to see, but this is a real position of need. Pettigrew is the top ranked Tight End in the draft. He is equal parts pass catcher and pass blocker, and could potentially make an immediate impact for the Pats.
3. Clint Sintim OLB (Virginia): Sintim has a few things going for him. He's played OLB in a 3-4 defense, he played for Belichick disciple Al Groh, and he's likely to be available at 23. This is a rich draft of OLB/DE prospects but very few of them have experience actually playing stand-up linebacker like Sintim does.
He hits like a truck and has a non-stop motor.
4. Clay Matthews OLB (USC): Matthews also has some experience playing in space as an OLB at USC. He would also be a Special Teams demon who would contribute immediately. The Pats have a stable of young OLBs, whether Sintim or Matthews are better than any of them remains to be seen.
5. Tyson Jackson DE (LSU): Jackson's one guy who is all over the place when it comes to mock drafts. Some have him in the top ten, others have him in the second round. But with Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green entering the last years of their contracts never count out the Pats drafting someone at one of the most important positions in the Belichick defense - a five-technique defensive end.
This list operates under the assumption that Brian Cushing (OLB, USC), Larry English (DE/OLB, Northern Illinois), and Aaron Mayben (DE/OLB, Penn State) will be off the board by the time the Patriots pick. We will have further analysis into them and others in next week's article.
Mike Dussault is a Patriots Community Leader at Bleacher Report, and also a contributor at BostonSportz.com. His Patriots blog can be viewed here, and he can be contacted at PatriotsPropaganda@gmail.com.